The Panthers haven't had a start like this in, well, ever.
By coming from behind to defeat the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime at PNC Arena on Wednesday night, the Cats secured their best record through the first 14 games of the season in franchise history, improving to 10-2-2 and sinking their claws right into first place in the Central Division.
"The one thing we did try to stress going into the season is that we need a big start," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said after Thursday's practice in Detroit. "That's a good start. I think the standard has been enhanced based on play. I think expectations internally should be in the right place to push us further as well. Let's keep trying to strive for better and push one another."
As the Panthers continue to topple one opponent after another, those outside of South Florida are also beginning to take notice. Jonathan Huberdeau's eye-popping assist in Carolina led off last night's SportsCenter, while the team also climbed to sixth in the NHL's latest "Super 16" list.
But what's been the key to this sudden resurgence? Well, it's not just one thing that's made the difference. With new general manager Bill Zito overhauling both the team's roster and culture in the offseason, there's a multitude of players and statistics that are deserving of praise right now.
With that in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the numbers that have caught my attention early on this season. Of course, this isn't everything. At this point, every player is deserving of a gold star for contributing to the team's winning effort. That being said, we are pressed for time.
So, with 14 games down and 42 to go, here's just a few key numbers that have stuck out.
0: The number of two-game losing streaks the Panthers have endured thus far. Yep, you read that right - zero. In the early goings of this season, the ability to bounce back as been one of the cornerstones of the team's success. When they've lost a game, they haven't sulked. They've simply dusted themselves off and gotten right back to work. In the four games they've played following a loss, they've posted a perfect 4-0-0 record.
1.58: Aleksander Barkov's expected goals allowed per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Cats captain's annual Selke Trophy campaign is off and running. Looking at forwards that have played at least 150 minutes and started fewer than 50% of their shifts in the offensive zone, his 1.58 expected goals allowed per 60 minutes currently ranks second in the league. When you also realize the high level of competition he plays against, that number becomes even more outstanding. In addition to that, he also leads Florida in both takeaways (12) and faceoff win percentage (55%).
5: The number of wins the Panthers have against the other three current playoff teams in the Central Division. This one is specifically to silence the "who have they beat?" crowd that seems to pipe up whenever a surprise team gets off to a hot start. In six games against the Lightning (10-3-1), Hurricanes (10-3-1) and Blackhawks (9-5-4), Florida has gone an impressive 5-1-0.
6. The number of times the "Comeback Cats" have won games despite falling behind 1-0. Tied with St. Louis for the most wins when trailing first this season, the Panthers are also tied for first for the most wins when trailing after the first period with four. Additionally, Wednesday's win at Carolina marked the first time they've come from behind to win when trailing after 40 minutes.
Video: FLA@CAR: Huberdeau tucks in breakaway overtime winner
7: The number of goals Carter Verhaeghe has scored. Making the most out of his opportunity on Florida's top line, the 25-year-old winger is tied for the team-lead in goals (7) and has also racked up the most points at even-strength (12). Poised to set new career-highs in almost all statistical categories, his seven goals are just two fewer than the nine he scored in 52 games as a rookie with Tampa Bay in 2019-20.
14: The combined points for Florida's youthful and energetic third line of Frank Vatrano, 26, Eetu Luostarinen, 22, and Owen Tippett, 22. Always going hard on the forecheck, the talented trio has racked up seven goals and seven assists through 14 games. Heating up as of late, four of those seven goals have come during the last four games alone.
20: Jonathan Huberdeau's team-high point total. After leading the Panthers in scoring with 78 points (23 goals, 55 assists) in 2019-20, the 27-year-old winger has picked up right where he left off this season. Racking up seven goals and 13 assists through just 14 games, no player in franchise history - including Pavel Bure - has ever hit the 20-point mark that fast in a season.
24:59: The average number of minutes Aaron Ekblad skates per game. A workhorse on the blue line, the 25-year-old defenseman has been excelling as one half of Florida's top-defensive pair alongside MacKenzie Weegar. In addition to ranking first on the team in ice time, he also leads all Panthers defensemen in goals (4) and is tied with Keith Yandle for the most points (9).
Video: TBL@FLA: Ekblad scores power-play goal to make it 3-1
29.3: Florida's power-play percentage. Finding the back of the net on the man advantage in eight of 14 games to start this season, the Panthers currently own the league's sixth-ranked power play. With a multitude of options on the top unit, four different players have notched at least two goals with the extra attacker, including a team-leading four from Patric Hornqvist.
60.50: The percentage of shot attempts that the line of Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe currently controls at 5-on-5, according to NaturalSatTrick.com. In addition to combining for 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists), the Panthers' top line has also been dominating the possession game whenever they're on the ice. Over the 149:19 they've been deployed at 5-on-5 together, the team owns gargantuan advantages in shots (96-60), shot attempts (170-111), high-danger shot attempts (37-17), scoring chances (87-48) and expected goals (8.07-4.17).
76: The league-leading number of hits Radko Gudas has doled out this season. Bringing an element of physicality to each and every one of his shifts, the man they call "The Butcher" has certainly helped make the Panthers a much tougher team to play against. Throwing at least five checks in 10 of 14 contests thus far, his 19.29 hits per 60 minutes are currently a career high.
.924: Chris Driedger's save percentage. Clearly, the 26-year-old goaltender is out to prove that his solid play during the 2019-20 season was no fluke. In addition to owning a 5-1-1 record with a 2.39 goals-against average, his .924 save percentage currently ranks ninth in the NHL among goaltenders that have made at least five starts this season. Over his seven starts, he's given up two-or-fewer goals four times and only finished a single game with a sub-.914 save percentage.
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